Our History -
“The African Methodist Episcopal Church grew out of the Free African Society (FAS) which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in Philadelphia in 1787 when officials at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church pulled blacks off their knees while praying at the altar which they had helped to build.”**
It is important to note that slavery began in the State of New Jersey in the early 17th century. New Jersey passed a law abolishing slavery in 1804 and instituted a process of gradual emancipation. The law made African Americans free at birth, but required children born to slave mothers to serve lengthy apprenticeships as a type of indentured servant until early adulthood. New Jersey was the last northern state to abolish slavery completely.
Thirty eight years before the last slaves in New Jersey were freed in 1865, Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church was organized. In 1827 records show that Joseph and Jane Hoagland along with other Blacks in the New Brunswick, New Jersey, area were founders of the Church. It is not known whether the founders were free or slaves or a combination of the two.
The property for the first building is reported as “a lot sized 30 x 13.5 sq.ft.” purchased for $417.73 from Abraham S. Clark and his wife. The membership of the congregation at that time was thirty persons. By December 12, 1829, the congregation held the title to property bought and paid for, and located on Division Street, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, upon which the first Church was erected. The first Mount Zion was a small, frame structure that looked like “the little red school house” so dear to the hearts of our forefathers. There was a burying ground around it. The men sat on one side of the Church, and the women on the other. The Officers sat in what is known to us as “The Amen Corner.”
During the early days, Mount Zion did not have a regular Pastor. Circuit riders came and preached, and then rode off on horseback to the next preaching assignment. To date, there have been 70 Pastors assigned to Mt. Zion. The first registered Pastor was Rev. Richard Robinson who served for two years from 1832-1834. It was not until the assignment of Rev. Solomon Hill (1938-1949) that a Pastor served for more than three years. Rev. Hill served as Pastor for eleven years. Rev. Hill was a very active member of the greater New Brunswick Area. He was a community-oriented Pastor and was loved throughout the area. He installed a new system of bookkeeping and business administration which improved the financial standing of the church. During his Pastorate the Church was stabilized for the first time.
Following Rev. Hill, Rev. W. C. Cook served from 1949 -1959. Under his leadership, Mt. Zion was renovated both inside and out. He served on the Boards of The Neighborhood House, and the New Brunswick Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Rev. James W. Waters followed Rev. Cook as our Pastor from 1959-1964. He, too, assumed a very prominent role in community affairs. He was an officer of the Ministerial Alliance of New Brunswick, the New Brunswick Council of Churches and served on the Board of the New Brunswick Mount Zion AME Church - “186 Years of Reflecting God’s Glory” 2 Corinthians 3:18
Urban League. When he ran for Mayor, Rev. Waters was the first of our race to run for public office in the history of New Brunswick. One of the most significant events of the years of Rev. Waters’ administration was the organization of the North Stelton A.M.E. Church during the conference year 1963-1964. Pastor Waters with the able assistance of Rev. Anna Howard conducted a survey and thereby determined the need for a church in the rapidly growing North Stelton Community of Piscataway Township.
The longest serving Pastor to date was Rev. Henry A. Hildebrand who served for 37 years. Shortly before Rev. Hildebrand’s assignment to Mt. Zion, a Building and Expansion Fund was established at Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church on Division Street. On June 29, 1964, a $238.80 deposit was the first made to this account. One of the most notable events during Rev. Hildebrand’s Pastoral term was our move into this edifice on October 10 and 11, 1987, after a seven-year struggle from the ground breaking ceremony to the occupying of this building. The list of accomplishments that Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church made while he was pastor is too lengthy to list in this brief narrative. However, we have on file in the Alice Archibald History Room a book written in 1994 to celebrate his thirty-year assignment to Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church - The Thirty Year-Pastoral Pilgrimage of The Reverend Henry A. Hildebrand. He continued to serve for seven more years.
Rev. Dr. Joseph Antoine Hooper served from 2001 through 2009. Rev. Dr. Hooper earned his doctoral degree while pastoring Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church. Under his leadership, the Praising Healthy Team and the Mt. Zion Pre School were established under the auspices of the CDC (Community Development Corporation). In addition, the Mt. Zion CDC partnered with The Leewood Real Estate Group to build the Mt. Zion Leewood Homes in New Brunswick. Under Rev. Hooper’s leadership, our membership grew exponentially, Mt. Zion’s Praise Dancers were formed, and the parsonage was renovated.
After Pastor Hooper was reassigned to another congregation, Bishop Richard Franklin Norris assigned Rev. Daylan K. Greer, Sr. He served three and a half years from June 2009 through January 2013. Under his leadership, the Mt. Zion Acolytes were installed.
In January 2013 The Rt. Rev. Gregory G. M. Ingram appointed Rev. Eric Ray Billips and Rev. Myra Turner Billips (known to us as “The Billips Team”) as Co-Pastors. They are the first Pastoral husband and wife team to be assigned in the First Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Pastor Myra Billips represents the first female Pastor of Mt. Zion, New Brunswick. They are hands-on Pastors. Under their leadership membership is increasing and the spirituality of our church and community has been positively impacted by these two Pastors who are committed to glorifying God and the growth of HIS Kingdom.
Our church has come from GLORY…TO GLORY…TO GLORY, and we are grateful to GOD for placing us in this place for this time. It is not an accident that we are here today celebrating 186 years as the oldest African-American church in Middlesex County . . . continuing to serve God and embrace the Greater New Brunswick Area.